Nothing wrecks a recycling stream faster than a dirty diaper.  Or rotten food.  Contaminants are threatening to ruin recycling programs across the country, including right here in East Texas.

If recycling companies lived in a perfect world, everything would come streaming in clean and sorted.  Instead, they're getting dirty diapers, rotten food, and sometimes dead animals on that conveyor belt.  Recycling bins are not for regular trash!  And while we're on the subject, it's never a good idea to toss a smelly dead bird into the recycle bin or the regular trash for that matter.  Leave that thing for the vultures.

contaminant is anything that doesn't belong.  It's an outside particle that finds its way into the mainstream, and in the case of a recycling system, it can bring the whole thing to a screeching halt while the foreign object is plucked out.

Contaminants in recycling systems can be obvious, but sometimes not.  There are something things that absolutely shouldn't be tossed into the recycle bins.

-- Cans and jars that aren't rinsed out and still have food particles in them

-- Any semi-full containers

-- Batteries, paint, and other hazardous waste

-- Diapers and other bio-hazards

-- Plastic bags

-- Chip bags and candy wrappers

-- Frozen food cardboard containers

-- Caps and lids from glass bottles and jars

Nothing is more frustrating for workers in a recycling plant than the dreaded plastic bag.  It's the number one worst offender on the list contaminants, and the category includes plastic grocery bags, sandwich bags, gallon-sized Ziplocs, and anything else thin that's considered a "film" more than a plastic.  Gallon-sized milk jugs are an example of a good, recyclable plastic, but plastic bags that held a bologna sandwich...not so much.  Those are best recycled at the grocery store.

(Cities vary on what they allow, so it's always a good idea to check with yours.  Some have started recycling plastic grocery store bags.)

Tyler allows cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, and Number 1 and 2 plastics in the bins, and they have another drop-off location downtown for things like cell phones, ink cartridges, and furniture.  Keep Tyler Beautiful also encourages us to rinse out food jars and cans.  If they detect signs of spaghetti sauce or beer, that's a big recycling no-no.

Sometimes it's tempting to toss things into the recycle bin without rinsing them out, and sometimes we're not really sure if something is recyclable or not so we'll toss it in just in case.  But that's not good recyclin'.  It messes everything up and bogs down the whole system.

I've started making double sure every A&W Diet Root Beer can is fully rinsed out before it goes into the recycle bin, and I've renewed my promise never to throw in a dead mouse.  We can all do that, right?  The City of Tyler needs us to cooperate.  And besides, there's no point in putting something in the recycle bin if it's never going to be recycled.  The jars need our help to get the spaghetti sauce out.

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